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Mike Ripley's Crime File - June 2007

'I Predict a Riot' by Colin Bateman; 'The One From The Other' by Philip Kerr; 'First Among Sequels' by Jasper Fforde; 'Reasonable Doubts' by Gianrico Carofiglio

There are several unusual things about Colin Bateman's latest book I Predict A Riot (Headline, 17.99). For a start, it's very long for a comic novel, weighing in at over 500 pages and all the rude words are censored with asterisks like t**s.

Things become clearer if you know that the book was written initially in serial form for a family newspaper in Northern Ireland, a technique used famously by Charles Dickens and which similarly resulted in big books packed with unusual characters. There the similarities between Bateman and Dickens end, for I'm not aware that Dickens ever made jokes about Ulster politics (and David Trimble in particular), projectile vomiting as a result of food poisoning from dodgy carrot cake, unemployed IRA men training Colombian guerrilla fighters and computer dating.

Bateman goes to town on all these targets and more, with a large cast of bizarre characters, few of whom are likeable and none of them heroic, so the humour is by turn slapstick and very dark. Bateman does not follow in the conventional tradition of crime writing; rather he should be seen as the natural heir to the black comic novels of Tom Sharpe.

Philip Kerr, a former Birmingham University student, burst on to the crime scene in spectacular fashion with a trilogy of novels featuring a tough private detective named Bernie Gunther, based in Germany during the Nazi era.

After a gap of over fifteen years, Kerr takes up Bernie's story in the occupied Germany and Austria of 1949 in The One From The Other (Quercus, 12.99). In many ways it is a classic hardboiled private eye story in true Raymond Chandler tradition, complete with a femme fatale and wisecracking dialogue, but Kerr is masterly when it comes to putting the flesh on these bare bones and the plot ranges to include the Holocaust, its aftermath and the changing loyalties of post war Europe.

There is also a shock ending with the hero literally sailing off into the sunset in the company of the strangest of fellow travellers.

Jasper Fforde's time-travelling literary detective Thursday Next is undoubtedly the most bizarre policewoman in crime fiction. After a gap of several years, although in her case that might be merely a few minutes, Thursday returns in First Among Sequels (Hodder, 12.99).

The very title sets the tone, for this is a surreal fantasy, crammed with literary references, especially about Pride and Prejudice, with a plot simply too outlandish to explain but which involves ghosts, vampire hunters, Neanderthals, Pinocchio and cheese smuggling from the People's Republic of Wales.

There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, but Jasper Fforde's heart doesn't seem to be quite in it this time and compared with the early Thursday Next adventures, this one seems to have lost some of its sparkle.

Reasonable Doubts (Bitter Lemon Press, 8.99) by Gianrico Carofiglio is an Italian legal thriller written by an Italian lawyer with a career as an anti-Mafia prosecutor in the city of Bari.

The hero, like the author, is a forty-something lawyer, hired to lodge an appeal on behalf of a man facing a long sentence for drug smuggling. There are good grounds for thinking the man has been set-up by organised crime, but the lawyer has to wrestle with his personal memories of the man as a young Fascist thug and the fact that he finds himself falling in love with man's wife.

This is a gentle, non-violent, almost romantic thriller with sympathetic characters and a very welcome change from the much bloodier serial-killer tales currently flooding the bookshops.

Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writes a regular column for the Birmingham Post.

last updated 1/07/2007 10:22